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Fracking on Shaky Ground: How Our Latest Fossil Fuel Addiction Is Linked to Earthquakes

When the mayor of Youngstown, Ohio decides to buy earthquake insurance, you know we've got a big problem.
 
 
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To what should be the surprise of no one, earthquakes caused by the junkie gas sector's hydraulic fracturing process, known as fracking, have been cropping up like Freud's repressed. The latest ominously arrived in Republican-dominated Ohio on New Year's Eve, quickly prompting Youngstown's mayor to buy earthquake insurance and lament, "You lose your whole house, that's your life savings, and if you have no money or no insurance to replace it, then what do you do?"

That's easy, Mayor Charles P. Sammarone, and anyone else finally learning these hard lessons: You stop fracking, which is to say you stop messing with the geological integrity of your cities, and their water tables. If you're Ohio, then you stop giving GOP industry stooges like Speaker of the House John Boehner and Governor John Kasich access to your precious natural resources. If you're the rest of the world, you accept that you have a serious problem with fossil fuel consumption, detach your complicity and support, and start planning for a future in which deregulated shale gas extraction, and its frackquake-causing disposal wells, are a desperate cry for psychoanalysis rather than an acceptable peak oil market.

Either that, or you sit back and watch as more unassuming fissures threading through your cities swell into destabilized faults in search of frackquakes, or worse.

"There has always been a scientific link between fracking and earthquakes," U.S. Geological Survey spokesperson Clarice Ransom told AlterNet. "The question of whether a hydrological injection project can interact with a nearby active fault to trigger an earthquake is still unresolved."

But not for long, as the fracking industry, emboldened by $750 million in political payouts, continues to tap the planet, stash its toxins, and according to Ransom, create more "tiny earthquakes [normally] too small to be of any concern" yet still "useful to the operators because they provide information about the fracking process."

That self-fulfilling circularity is bound to generate further predictable data with a simple premise: The purpose of hydraulic fracturing is to destabilize the ground beneath our feet to feed our energy addiction, and it has done its job with fearsome precision. At this point, saying we need more science on the cause of frackquakes is as reassuring as saying we need to cause more frackquakes for the purposes of science.

Ohio's NYE eye-opener is a perfect example. It was the 11th in a series of frackquakes in about nine months since D&L Energy started blasting brine and other fracking byproducts into wells over 9,000 feet deep, a clear trend. You can throw it on the pile with exponentially surging frackquakes in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and even England. Scientific American didn't need much more science from USGS to point out the blindingly obvious: The easiest solution to the frackquake conundrum is a "thorough seismic survey to assess tracts of rock below where oil and gas drilling fluid is disposed of [to] help detect quake prone areas."

Of course, the scientists pointed out, that would be a lot more expensive (at least, at first) than blindly blasting ahead and dealing with the frackquake fallout later. But that's what the $750 million, and rising, payoff to Republicans and Democrats was for. The last thing the industry wants are thorough assessments shutting down its profit margins by telling it where it can and can't frack.

"We are not going to stand by and let someone  drive a stake through the heart of what could be an economic revival in Eastern Ohio," Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols told Bloomberg. But it's clear the fracking industry is an environmental Dracula whose dangers and risks only seem to increase as its predictable data arrives, and not just on earthquakes.

 
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